OmniFocus 2 for the iPhone – an opinion

Actually I wanted to write a review about OmniFocus 2 with screenshots everything. But there are already several of them, just to link to two.

So no screenshots, just my experiences from the last days. OmniFocus 1 was designed pragmatically and worked very well. You could input tasks fast, you could check them off fast, got an overview with the Forecast-feature. All in all it was a very good companion app to the OS X-application. Without it though it was a very good Todo-app since it has start and due dates, repetitive tasks, projects etc.

Its main weakness was it looks. It had a charming look reminding us how stock-iOS-apps look when there is nearly no custom design. And it synced but the sync always felt slow especially in comparison to one of the main competitors Things.

OmniFocus 2 worked on exactly those two weaknesses. It got completely redesigned. The overview-screen put Forecast into a more prominent place, which is great. You can immediately see how many tasks are up today in the coming week. The same applies to tasks that are flagged or in the inbox. You can easily get to Projects, Nearby and Contexts and everything in the nice look of iOS7. A very bright white and beautiful colors. I really like the new look of it. But we will see how it will hold up over the years. Since OF1 did not get so much design-love over the years, I do not expect that OF2 will get that much love over the time. But for now it is looking awesome. The first time that it looks better than Things.

The other weakness is syncing. OF2 has, thanks to iOS7, the ability to wake up from time to time and sync. Henceforth when you really use it as a companion-app and do not look all the time at the phone just to see if that icon-badge appears and if the data is there but do the stuff you are supposed to do, you will see that magically all your tasks are there when you look at it on a break or when you come to the tasks that have to sync over to it. The sync is not immediate but it just happens. I can’t say how fast but it is usually a couple of minutes but can also take half an hour in my experience. To be honest, that didn’t turn out yet as a problem. I wrote today my shopping list at home, and when I arrived at the supermarket the tasks where there. I noted some stuff down in OF, get going and when I was where I had to be to do the tasks, they were there. When I noted down tasks on the iPhone while out and returned home to my running computer the tasks where there. The sync is still not fast, but it works in the background and the tasks are usually there when you are happen to be in a place where you need your synced todo-items.

Another nice feature is when putting in a new task there is a “Save+”-button, which will add the task, you are noting down and you get immediately a new task to add.

So far, so good. What are the downsides? Right now there is no Textexpander-support because Textexpander needs a new framework and that didn’t get released in time for most devs for adding it to their apps. I guess it is the same for the people at Omni and it will return. The app doesn’t have landscape-support, but I actually do not care. There is still no review-functionality. That’s the one I miss the most because I could do it then when I am already lying in bed or when I am commuting. The app is really bright, so it is not so nice to be usable at night. I hope that gets fixed in the future. For starters you can put the Invert Colors-function in the Accessibility-settings onto the triple Home Button-click and you get a dark OF2 that looks really really good.

Putting in tasks got a bit weaker in this version. Number one is that in OF1 is that task-details that belonged to each other were visually grouped together (like start/due-dates). That isn’t the case anymore. They are sorted the same way but it is just line after line. The other thing I do not like is putting in a start/due-date. The dialer comes up and there are some shortcuts for +1 day/week/month/year present but you have to tap the line with “Due” or “Defer until” to return to the screen where you can put in other details. That is confusing and even so I entered already some tasks I can’t get accustomed to it and it doesn’t feel that this will happen so fast. A next-button or something would be nice.

The next thing I do not like is that the pretty much default gesture for moving back a view in iOS7, a swipe from left to right does not work unfortunately. From what I read it was either an oversight because you have to actively activate it again when you are adding a custom animation like Omni did, or it was a design-decision, which I would not like. I got really accustomed to moving back views via a swipe. And it is so omni-present in iOS7 (pun intended).

Last but not least the price. Imho the app is worth $10. But since I am using it daily for several years now and got free updates, it felt ok to pay the 20 bucks, even so it is a lot of money for me (in general not relative to other apps). When you are really looking at it, it is only a visual update with background syncing. Those are nice additions but not worth a complete re-purchase at a relative high price for an app that is mainly a companion app to a pricey but great todo-app. If you have the money, please support Omni, buy the upgrade and thus they will be able to put out other great applications. If you are short on money, save up for it. You can wait. The app doesn’t add any functionality, which justifies an immediate necessary update right now (like a review-functionality would for example). Support Omni when you have the money, but it can wait. OF1 still works in iOS7, thus you are not missing that much. And when you have the money, pay for it and be delighted by the new looks and the background-sync.

Nur fünf Apps

Nur fünf Apps, hab ich bei Truhe gelesen. Die Aufgabe: Du kannst nur fünf Apps installieren auf deinem Smartphone. Welche wären das?

1. YNAB

Für meine Budgetverwaltung brauch ich schon etwas auf dem iPhone und da ich YNAB dafür verwende, ist das mobile Gegenstück natürlich die App der Wahl

2. 1Password

Mit iOS7 und der iCloud-Keychain könnte sich das evtl. erübrigen, aber aktuell habe ich halt alle meine Passwörter in 1Password und die sind derart gestaltet, dass ich sie mir nicht merken kann. Daher geht ohne 1Password nichts. Obwohl, vielleicht ginge es mit 1Password Everywhere.

3. OmniFocus

Meine Bedürfnisse in Sachen ToDo-Listen sind etwas umfangreicher und die App von Apple in dem Bereich suckt. Daher OmniFocus. Keine Lust mir irgendwas zusammenzuhacken, was ohne das mobile Gegenstück zu OmniFocus am Mac ginge.

4. hAppy

Ich benutze nur noch ein soziales Netzwerk so richtig. App.net. Und da ist hAppy auf dem iPhone einfach die App mit dem größten Funktionsumfang und deckt nicht nur den Microblogging-Teil ab, sondern auch private Nachrichten und den Chat Patter und sieht dabei auch noch brauchbar aus und hat Funktionen, damit ADN auch im Edge-Land Spaß macht. Ok, keine Push-Benachrichtigungen zu haben suckt ein wenig, ist aber verschmerzbar.

5. Anki

Meine App der Wahl zum Lernen von Vokabeln. Gibt nichts besseres unter iOS und OS X meiner Erfahrung nach, auch wenn’s hübscher sein könnte.

Zum Schluss noch die Apps, die ich wirklich vermissen würde:

Prism, Tempora und ich

TL;DR: Alles Mist.

Seit ein paar Wochen ist bekannt, dass die Aluhüte™ recht hatten. Die Überwachung durch Staaten findet großflächig statt. Wir wussten, dass wir freiwillig Konzernen unsere Daten übergeben. Teils ist es Wahl, teils entgeht man nur mit Aufwand der Datensammelei von Konzernen. Ich habe keine Illussion, dass Google und Facebook sehr detaillierte Profile von mir haben, auch wenn ich ausgeloggt bin. Und ich möchte nicht wissen1, wer sonst noch so alles detaillierte Profile von mir angelegt hat.

Inzwischen weiß ich, dass vermutlich mehreren Nachrichtendienste Profile von mir erstellen könnten, wenn sie wollten. Die Zielrichtung ist nur eine andere. Statt 31, min. ein Kind, Apple-Fanboy, heißt es halt 31, informiert sich über verschlüsselte Nachrichtenübermittlung, könnte potentiell etwas zu verbergen haben.

Seitdem PRISM, Tempora und wie die Programme auch immer heißen bekannt sind, habe ich keine einzige Mail bekommen mit einer PGP-Signatur oder einem S/Mime-Zertifikat bekommen. Für mich heißt das, dass fest zumindest mit meinen Kommunikationspartnern in der Zeit niemanden gibt, der zumindest alles eingerichtet hat um Mails zu verschlüsseln. Ansonsten könnte er/sie ja signieren und ich wüsste, dass es einen öffentlichen Schlüssel gibt und ich eine verschlüsselte Mail verschicken können. Chats, die mit OTR verschlüsselt waren, hatte ich exakt einen.

Rede ich mit Leuten über die Thematik, sind sie in der Regel erbost darüber. Wobei ich aber sagen muss, dass ich noch nicht wirklich auf die Thematik angesprochen worden bin. Etwas das normalerweise passiert, wenn irgendwas böses mit Computern die Runde macht. Mein Eindruck ist, dass es den meisten weiterhin schnuppe ist, ob mitgelesen wird oder Verbindungsdaten erhoben werden. Welcher Nachteil ergibt sich auch für sie? Was soll schon passieren?

Ich bin mit Cyberpunk groß geworden. Ich habe Enemy of the State gesehen. Ich habe einen Namen, der meines Wissens nach einzigartig auf der Welt ist. Ich schreibe in der Regel mit Klarnamen. Ich bin es gewohnt damit umzugehen, dass alles was ich ins Netz schreibe in der Regel sehr einfach auf mich zurückverfolgt werden kann.

Wenn ich eine Mail schreibe, eine Nachricht per Jabber oder eine private Nachricht auf app.net, fühle ich mich allerdings unbeobachtet. Obwohl ich weiß, dass zumindest Mails durch viele Hände gehen und jeder auf dem Weg mitlesen kann. Bei Jabber und PMs liegen sie auf dem Server und dem Administrator muss ich vertrauen. Denn zumindest der kann in der Regel mitlesen, wenn er denn wollte.

Jetzt kann ich mir allerdings sicher sein, dass es Institutionen gibt, die mitlesen können, wenn sie es denn wollen. Hat sich dadurch mein Kommunikationsverhalten geändert? Nein. Ich hab zwar bei meiner Freundin Threema2 installiert, aber wir benutzen trotzdem Mail, SMS und iMessages. Ich hab meinen GPG-Kram mal wieder reaktivert und könnte an sich verschlüsselte Mails schreiben. Aber mit wem?

Und selbst wenn, im Kopf sitzt es nicht drin, dass da potentiell ein gelangweilter Analyst irgendwo mitliest oder ein Tool über meine Mails geht und mich potentiell als Gefährder3 einstuft, weil ich über irgendein Rollenspiel schreibe. Und dann kommen ja noch die Verbindungsdaten hinzu. Was weiß ich, was die Leute mit denen ich auf app.net kommuniziere evtl. außerhalb des sozialen Netzwerks treiben. Ich denke, dass man in so ein Netz schneller reinfallen kann, als man denkt. Aber es ist nicht im Kopf drin. Es ist einfach zu abstrakt, zu weit weg. Das ist so ein bisschen wie in den Nachrichten das Leid in anderen Ländern zu sehen. Ja, ist schlimm, gleich fängt der Tatort4 an, oder? Und ich denke, so geht es den meisten.

Persönlich würde ich gerne etwas machen und habe auch all die schönen Werkzeuge zur Hand und weiß, dass ich mit BlackVPN und Tor, sowie mit GPG, OTR und was weiß ich nicht, relativ sicher5 kommunizieren könnte. Aber dazu gehören immer zwei und irgendwie ist es auch unbequem. Und wie oben geschrieben, kommt dazu, dass es einfach nicht im Kopf ist.

Und ja, ich habe Dinge zu verbergen. Wer nicht? Und wenn man der Meinung ist, dass man nichts zu verbergen hat, sollte man die Kreativität anderer Menschen nicht unterschätzen, die etwas draus drehen können. Evtl. reicht es ja schon aus sich verwählt zu haben.

Also was tun? Der Aussage “If You Have Something You Don’t Want Anyone To Know, Maybe You Shouldn’t Be Doing It” von Eric Schmidt folgen? Aber kann man das immer, will man das immer? Haben sie dann nicht gewonnen? Eine angepasste neutralisierte Menschheit, die das macht was Staaten und Konzerne von ihnen erwarten? Eigentlich will ich Freiheit nicht durch gefühlte Sicherheit ersetzen. Mit der ganzen Überwachung bekommen sie auch nur die dummen Übeltäter und wer weiß, ob sie die nicht auch so bekommen hätten. Gleichzeitig steigt die Zahl der False Positives.

Irgendwie ist das alles unschön und eine Lösung habe ich auch nicht. Nachrichtendienste abschaffen wäre sicherlich erstrebenswert. Aber ich denke nicht, dass es eine Lösung wäre. Es wird immer andere geben, die einen haben und den gewonnenen Informationsvorteil nutzen werden. Es ist ein bisschen wie ein Staat, in einer Krisenregion zu sein und keinerlei Militär zu haben. Selbst das laut Verfassung pazifistische Japan hat zum Einen immer unter dem Sicherheitsmantel der USA gelebt und seine Selbstverteidigungsstreitkräfte haben auch eine nicht geringe Größe.

Gleichzeitig kann man Nachrichtendienste auch nur schwer demokratisch kontrollieren. Schließlich sind Geheimnisse ihr Geschäft. Natürlich sollten sie einer parlamentarischen Kontrolle unterliegen und das Parlament besteht schließlich aus gewählten Vertretern des Volks, aber wer überwacht die Wächter? Interessant wäre natürlich, wenn sie voll transparent arbeiten würden und es dadurch keine Geheimnisse mehr gäbe, aber das führt wieder zu ganz anderen Problemen.

Wenn alle verschlüsselten und VPNs und Tor nutzten, würde man es den Überwachern sicherlich ziemlich schwer machen. Aber das ist auch eher unrealistisch. Und wenn man der einzige unter vielen ist, der sich über Verschlüsselung heraushebt, dann ist man auf einmal auch wieder interessant und es wird genauer hingeschaut.

Und gar nicht mehr privat online kommunizieren bringt’s ja auch nicht. In den USA werden jetzt schon die Verbindungsdaten von sämtlichen Briefen seit Jahren erhoben. Damit fiele das auch weg. Und Brieftauben züchten, ist jetzt auch nicht mein Ding. Und die Latenz von dem ganzen analogen Kram ist doch recht hoch.

Tja, irgendwie eine ganz schöne Zwickmühle das alles. Und am Ende steht ein Gefühl der Ohnmacht.


  1. Na ja, eigentlich würde ich es schon gerne wissen. 
  2. Ein vermutlich sicherer Instant Message-Service, der Ende-zu-Ende verschlüsselte Kommunikation erlaubt. 
  3. Ich bin Shadowrun-Spieler, ein Pen&Paper-Rollenspiel, bei dem man einen professionellen Verbrecher im Auftrag von Konzernen spielt. Und die Reaktionen in der S-Bahn, wenn man sich über vergangene Missionen unterhält oder über den Einbruch bei der nächsten Mission spricht und wo man die vollautomatischen Waffen und den Sprengstoff herbekommt, sind eindeutig. 
  4. Nein, ich schaue den Tatort nicht. 
  5. Ich bezweifel, dass es sichere Kommunikation gibt. Evtl. wenn ich mich mit einer anderen Person in einer Höhle treffe und wir uns Nachrichten auf Papier hin- und herschieben und danach den Zettel verbrennen, kann man sich wohl sicher sein, dass niemand mitgelesen hat. Und dann wüsste ein Angreifer immer noch, dass ich mich mit der anderen Person getroffen hätte. 

My GTD-workflow

This is a blog post which is in the pipelines for several years now. But since I got asked now directly, I decided to finally write down what my take on Getting Things Done, in short GTD is. I read the book by the same name by David Allen in 2005 or 2006 after it got recommended to me with the comment “Since I use this system my desk is always tidy”.

I never took the book as a ruleset but with the words of Captain Barbossa from the first Pirates of the Carribean-movie: “the code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules”. So, I created my own “system” to get things done. And I have to be honest, it doesn’t always work and from time to time I succumb to slacking but this is probably some part of my nature and hard to fight. But I give my best.

The system had several iterations and began its life on paper with the Hipster PDA and a hacked Moleskine but needed actually computer programs to really work. What it needs is something you have always with you like a smartphone that syncs its data to your computer.

Trust and Outsourcing

The most important parts of what I learned from the book are essentially the following two:

  1. Have a trusted system.
  2. Write everything down.

Without a trusted system, everything I am writing here about isn’t a solution at all. When you don’t trust your system, you might even create more workload for your brain. After all you have to remember then what you have written down and what not and maybe even care about wether nothing gets lost in your system.

The second one only works, when you have a trusted system. Write everything down. Move stuff out of your brain into your system. Essentially outsource task management from your brain to your todo-system. The good thing is that in contrast to an economy, there will be no hollowing-out, since no one looses his or her job and will have problems to find a new one. No, you make ressources free, to be able to focus on the tasks, you have to do right now. The more you write down, the lesser the chance that your brain will pop right into an important task with a modal reminder dialogue that you shouldn’t forget to get salt at the super market, so your dinner won’t taste bland.

But number two works only if you have a trusted system. So create one and then write everything down.

The Setup

Inboxes

First get your inboxes in order. In my case it is a pile situated on my desk of loose papers, my mail inbox and the inbox of the current app of choice on my smartphone and its equivalent on my computer. And in general I try to follow the principle that fewer inboxes are better because that means that I have to trust less things to work. In my experience the pile of paper is the most untrustworthy one. But hey, there is still so much paper floating around.

I prefer using some todo-apps on my Mac and their iOS-clients. But at work I have only Windows available, so I am using there a plain-text-system and sync it to an iOS-client via Dropbox. Makes more inboxes but the Mac-clients are worth it.

Areas of Responsibility

The next thing I need for getting order into my tasks are larger groups, that are defined by areas in my life. In Things I am using “Areas of Responsibility”. In OmniFocus I used folders, in plain-text solutions I usually use one text-file per area. Depending on the system I have more areas. In Things or a text-file system I have some “projects” converted to “Areas of Responsibility” or would have in a text-file-system in its own file.

I have defined for myself six areas:

  • Home
  • University
  • Work
  • Administration
  • Blogging / Podcasting
  • Hobby

Home: Everything I have to do privately or are family matters. Cleaning the apartment, repairing toys from my child, getting something new for the apartment, water the flowers etc.

University: This one is for everything related to my studies. Texts that I have to read, questions I have to research, extending the dates when I have to return books to the library and so on.

Work: Since I am a student who has to pay rent, has to eat something and wants from time to time just buy stuff, I have to work. Everyting work-related comes into this area. Usually I have a secondary system just for work, since I have to work with Windows at work but prefer actually a Todo-app that is only available for OS X.

Administration: This is the area for paperwork and paying bills.

Blogging/Podcasting: Well, I have a blog and am part of two podcasts. I could fit those also into the Hobby-area but I prefer to keep them separate. Henceforth ideas and everything I have to do for those get into this area.

Hobby: A child, work, studying, blogging and podcasting still can leave a bit of free time that wishes to be filled. So, I have a few hobbies, like a monthly pen&paper-role playing session, dancing and karate classes. From time to time I have to do something for them, too like advancing my character or just getting new equipment like laces for my dancing shoes or a new belt when I was succesful in a belt trial.

Projects

Not every task needs a projects. Therefore I have in OmniFocus some projects with the name “miscellaneous” and Things and text-file-approaches support those tasks easily out of the box. And not every task that can be broken down into single steps needs a project. The task “pay electric bill” is enough for me to know that I have to get the bill and make the wire transfer.

Otherwise I use projects for the obvious: bigger tasks that have to be broken down to get an outcome.

I have two special projects that will never be closed. In Things I created Areas of Responsibility for them because of the way the side bar works. I just don’t want to see them right in the top of the projects.

Watch Later: For listening something later I use Huffduffer, for reading a text later I use Instapaper. For videos, web projects, software or other stuff I want to have a look at, when I am at my desktop I put a task into this project. So, when I have some free time, I just pull up this project and have a look here.

Shopping: I don’t need a special shopping list-app. After all, those are only lists and todo-apps are pretty good in maintaining lists. So, I use my todo-app for my shopping list. When we plan what we need from the supermarket, I am often at home and can input in on my computer which is faster than on the iPhone. It’s the best way for me to keep my shopping list up to date. Of course, when I want to get something from Amazon or the AppStore which I can’t or don’t want afford right now, it usually comes into this project, too.

Templates

There are some projects that I have to do again from time to time. The three most used templates by me are a template for paying doctor’s bills, since that takes several steps, a template for a new episode of the retrogaming-podcast I am part of and the last one is tidying up the apartment (which could also be recurring one). I just have an inactive project for those and have them in an are called templates. When I have to get one up and working, I duplicate it, move it to the appropriate area, make a bit of customization (bill number, episode name, things like that) and set them active if necessary depending of the GTD-tool I am using.

Getting Things Done

So, now everything is set up and I actually have to get things done. If I have an idea or in a discussion comes something up, I note it immediately down and excuse myself, that I have to do that for not forgetting it. After all, we don’t want to be rude and stare at our smartphones all day long 😉

Task Name

I read on several blogs that a task name should look like “Verb object”. That’s fine for English, but try that with other languages. In German that works only well with an imperative and I don’t like to have a commanding voice in my head. In addition there are many verbs that get split up, so one part goes before the object, another one after the object. So that doesn’t usually work. “Object Verb” works most of the time but actually I don’t need all the time a verb. And for my Shopping-list the item name is more than enough as is a URL for my Watch Later-list.
Therefore I write my tasks down like bulletpoints:
* 1 lection Duolingo (that’s a very recommendable site for learning languages)
* Read 1 Pomodoro (more about that later)
* tooth paste

In combination with the area or even a project that already gives me enough context, that I know what to do.

Copy & Pasting

Quite often input comes from mails or social networks. When I have the possibility to use the OmniFocus Maildrop, I just forward the mail or the app.net-post to Maildrop and I am done. Usually I adjust the subject because that becomes the task.

When I am using a system that doesn’t have something available like Maildrop, I usually do the following:

  • the mail-body gets copied and posted into the notes-field of a task and I add a short todo as the task
  • I copy the text of an app.net/twitter-post and make that the task.

This works and is fast. And if it’s about mail, I usually have enough ways to find my mails in MailMate

Contexts and Tags

I think that contexts are an invention for people who have far more to do than they can handle. The clientele of David Allen which he is consulting. In OmniFocus I usually add a context because it is so fast and easy, in Things I feel like they discourage one from doing so the way input of tasks on the iPhone is set up. I have contexts that describe “locations”:

  • home
  • computer
  • phone
  • online (so doable on a computer, smartphone whatever as long as I am online)
  • mail
  • library
  • errands
  • waiting for

And only a tag like library has sub-contexts. I do not even have sub-contexts for Errands anymore except Amazon and AppStore to get an additional information for what device it is. But all in all it was too tedious to think about where I get something when entering the tasks. Also I am going for errands nearly every day, so I just go where I need to buy stuff. When I look at my errands, I usually know when I get some stuff at specific places. But for example tooth paste I get everywhere. It’s rare that I get something at only one place.

Waiting for is a special context which is reserved for the case that I have to wait onto some event to happen or on a person. Usually those tasks get also in the task-text a “Waiting for” and get either scheduled or a due date for following up, if nothing happened. I always set this context and never get sloppy with that one. The reason are that I can easier find them in my review and since I depend in that case on external factors, I have to be extra careful.

Tags are nice but in the end I am not using them. Things is so good in convincing me that I don’t need them, that I usually do not enter them and it still works.

I tried using those new contexts which are about energy levels and all but I never got them to work for me. They are a nice idea but looking at my today- and projects-list I usually know what I am capable to do and what not. And I actually don’t want to think about that beforehand when entering the task. For what reason? If the task is “solve complex math-problem”, I know that I am not able to do it at 10pm after I just had a training unit of karate that felt like two.

If my workload would suddenly quadruple, that would all change though I guess.

Start and Due times

Never set due dates or times when it is not absolutely necessary. But try to set start dates (or schedule tasks in Things) as often as possible. In my experience a lot of tasks can be done only starting from a certain date. When you set start dates, you can remove those tasks out of your sight until their time comes and you have to re-decide, if you can set another start date or if you really want to see those tasks every day. I even set start times because I know that I can’t do certain tasks before the afternoon because I am at work. That way they only pop up, when I am on my way home and check what I have to do after work.

Many people seem to set due dates because they expect that they do want to do a certain task at a certain date but in the end they won’t and just tons of tasks that are overdue pile up. Just set due dates when something bad happens when a task is not done latest on a certain date.

And then there are due times. Let’s say I want to do something to do, like getting something from the supermarket, I like to set me a due date for a certain time where I should be near one. The tasks becomes then overdue but I get reminded about it. I can remove the due date if necessary. There are apps that don’t support due times, only dates (I look at you Things). Then I have to use some other app to remind me. That adds a second inbox but it works somehow.

Today-list

In the morning I go through my tasks and have a look what I want and have to do today. Then I flag/star everything and off I go. There Things shines by the way in contrast to OmniFocus. The Next-list works for me far better than all the perspectives I tried and having all scheduled tasks turning up for review in the beginning of the day, makes it easier as well.

Pomodoros

I know that I need for some tasks concentration or that are ongoing and at least doing something for a certain time for a day brings me forward, even so I actually do not really want to do it. In those cases I use Pomodoros. If you have never heard of the concept, it is just a series of timers:

Do something for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, do something for 25 minutes etc. An interval of 25 minutes is called a pomodoro. After four pomodoros you get an extended break of 15 minutes. Sounds a bit strange but it works. Silence your phone and computer, switch off any instant messengers, mail programs or whatever, start your timer and begin doing it. Even if it is a long task, with those intervals you will fulfill them at some time, instead of never because you just procrastinate over it.

Reviews

Reviews are an important part that you can trust your system. I do right now a weekly review sundays and monthly review on the beginning of a month, but when my workload is huge I do a daily one. My weekly review is taken from Creating Flow with OmniFocus from Kourosh Dini. Even when you are not an OmniFocus-user this book might be interesting for you because he has a lot of interesting ideas how to set up workflows.

My weekly recurring project has the following tasks:

  • Get all inboxes to zero
  • Collect loose papers and materials
  • Empty your brain
  • Do a review (look through all your active projects)
  • Look at Someday (or look at all your inactive projects)
  • Review the Waiting for-context
  • Review previous calendar data (one week back for the weekly review, one month for the monthly)
  • Review future calendar data (again one week or one month)
  • Be creative (come up with new stuff, you want to do)

The monthly review is actually just an addition for setting up and reviewing my budgets and setting goals for the month, so what do I want to achieve this month.

A daily review just looks at a few projects, creates the above mentioned today-list on the evening before instead of the morning and has an additional look on future calendar data and waiting for-tasks to stay on top of everything.

As stated above: Reviews are important and in my opinion actually the most important part to keep your system a trusted system. Even if you are sloppy with entering your and checking off your tasks, the review still keeps the system trusted. OmniFocus helps with reviewing since you can tell it that you want to review projects at certain times like weekly, biweekly or even more seldom.

Conclusion

Now I wrote a lot about how I set up my system and how I enter and work through my tasks. In the end a short round up is in order.

  1. Trust your system
  2. Write everything down
  3. Rarely use due dates, often use start dates
  4. Create Pomodoros for large tasks you likely procrastinate on
  5. Do your reviews to keep on top

I guess that’s it. I hope this helps and gives you some inspiration. I am happy to answer questions in the comments.

App.net: Sending PMs to people who can’t receive them results in…nothing

Last weekend I sat together with @map and we noticed the following behavior on app.net: When you send someone a private message that has his privacy settings set in a way, that the person can’t receive a message from you, then well, nothing happens. For you it look likes that they received the message, but they won’t get it.

Except one of two things is happening:
* they send you a private message
* they change their setting to something that they can receive a private message from you and you send her a private message

In both cases they will see all private messages sent previously.

To understand that behavior I have to get a bit technical here and since I am not a developer, I hope that I do not mess up 🙂

Sending someone a private message creates something called a channel. Depending on the private message-settings of the user, you have the ability to subscribe her to this channel or not. If not, the channel will be created, it will look like you both are a member of that channel but in fact only you are (at least in my tests it seemed that way).

Now my question: Why doesn’t the sender get an error message? After all for the sender it will look like you are ignoring her and not as if you cannot get the message. Which can lead to real life social problems (like people thinking you are a prick).

From what I gathered my understanding what the reasoning on app.nets side is that:

  • the receiver could have a setting in place that he intentionally ignores you (like a mute)
  • clients could implement it, if they wanted

Do you see already the contradiction in that argumentation?

If not, I will explain it to you. You can check if you can subscribe a user to a channel (there’s a flag for it in the user details when you ask for it called “you_can_subscribe”). If the user has privacy settings in place that she can’t receive messages from you, the flag is set to false.

Now what happens, if a user has muted you but has her private messages set up in a way that she can receive private messages from all? Well, “you_can_subscribe” is set to true, but she won’t see your message.

Well, if a client implements a check wether you can send someone a private message or not, the client would as I understand it check for “you_can_subscribe”. When the person has appropriate privacy settings in place, the flag is set to false, if not it is to true, wether or not she is muting you. Thus people who intent to ignore you will still seem to ignore you.

And now again my question: Why the hell doesn’t get the sender an error message? As in an error from the API? Clients usually have already something implemented to show you error messages – they are not always look nice, but they can do it. But the check for it, is an extra step that has to be implemented. And since they can only implement it in a way an error message from the API could show it, the API could directly throw the error. That way, when it gets implemented even clients that are not getting updated often (I look at you Netbot) could have this feature immediately. Or am I seeing something wrong here? If yes, please correct me in the comments.

If you see it similar to me, that there should be an error message thrown by the API, please write the app.net-staff.

Best chances are probably to write [email protected] and writing directly to @dalton, @berg and @mthurman. The more who write them, that this is a problem, the better the chances that it gets corrected in the API. After all, it is a network where we are the customers and which thrives not only from good clients and happy developers but also from happy users. And I know already some unhappy users because of this.

Podcast umgezogen

Ich hatte hier einen Podcast namens “Ein Mikrofon und Ich” auf der Seite. Da ich in der Gestaltung des Blogs aber flexibel bleiben will, habe ich den Podcast jetzt umgezogen. Zu finden ist er nun unter http://niels.kobschaetzki.net/podcast.

Dementsprechend sind auch die Feeds umgezogen. Während sie vorher: http://niels.kobschaetzki.net/feed/format/ hießen, heißen sie nun http://niels.kobschaetzki.net/podcast/feed/format/

Double-Dipping and the DIP

Yesterday the guys from Riposte released an update of one of their clients, which is fairly popular. Originally it cost $5, then went free and now they added an in-app-purchase for $5 for some additional “pro”-features.

Of course there were immediately some people that felt ripped off, it had a bit of bad taste for me but not for long and then there was also at several places a discussion about the Developer Incentive Program (henceforth DIP), too.

What is the DIP?

If you know what the DIP is, just jump to the paragraph after the next one. So, what is the DIP? Each month users of app.net get an e-mail from app.net to rate the usefulness of clients they used. If you are a subscriber to app.net your vote counts, if you are a user of a free tier, your vote is “just” important for the statistics. It was promised if I remember correctly that the developers will get at one point the feedback from those mails, thus the “free vote” is important here as well.

Developers can apply for their clients for the DIP and if they get accepted, any user who uses the client will get asked in the feedback-mail to rate that client. Then there is an unknown algorithm that weights the votes by the kind of API-calls the client does (specialized client or a client that does all you can think of) as far as I understood it and then developers will get a share of $30.000 (subject to change – with more users this amount will rise). That’s the DIP.

Some history

Now some recent history. Netbot got released by Tapbots and cost a certain amount of money. Everybody expected that they will be pretty succesful, since they are famous from their Twitter-client and many people still see app.net as a paid form of Twitter (which it isn’t). After some weeks they made Netbot free because sales dropped with the reasoning that they want to get more users to the platform, their client will help to do that and with more people using Netbot, they will get a bigger share of the DIP.

There was a big uproar in the community, and I have to say that I was also one of the people who didn’t like the move. After all a very popular client that will get guaranteed downloads from Twitter-switchers and it will be hard to get people use other clients. In addition Netbot makes app.net look like Twitter to them because they get the exact same experience as with Tweetbot. Therefore it might even hurt app.net.

But Netbot wasn’t the first client to be free. The first client on iOS for app.net was Rhino and that was free from the beginning. Another popular app.net-client called Rivr was free, too. It just offered an in-app purchase for push notifications. All the other clients cost money. But since they won’t attract users as easy as Netbot, it is in my opinion a bit of a different story.

After Netbot got free, Riposte, a very polished client that cost $5 got free. The reasoning was more or less: Netbot got free, our sales dropped, so we correlate that to Netbots gone free and to have a chance at all, we go free, too and hope for the DIP. Thank you all who paid, with that our push-servers are financed for quite some time.

Other clients went free as well, but none with the fanfare as Riposte (and hAppy went free and when some users complained that Felix still cost money while so many clients are free, Dominik Hauser, the Dev of hAppy began charging again for hAppy).

Double-Dipping?

Now Riposte released an update and added an IAP for $5 with some neat “Pro”-features. Naturally there were users who felt double-dipped. Others got Riposte for free and pay now $5 to get the features and they have paid after all $10 when they wanted the Pro-features. I had a bit of a bad taste in my mouth but then thought, well the first time I paid for it, I put some money in the pool for as all having push notifications with Riposte. That’s ok with me. Would be nicer if I got the features for free, but hey, it is their decision. And for people who use Riposte as their main client, then they probably use it on a daily basis. And $10 for a software I use daily is not a lot of money. Especially I have the feeling that people only feel that they get double-dipped because Riposte went in the meantime free and others get the whole package for $5 instead of $10 and so feel treated unfairly. But to be honest, how should the developers handle it? They can get their client out for free and if you really like the client, you can upgrade it. I don’t see how they could check when you bought the app, a separate app is not good, either etc. So, don’t feel double-dipped. If you don’t like it, don’t pay for it. If you think other clients are more feature-rich than use those. So why oh why all the time whining?

I think Riposte Pro looks interesting but it’s a bit hard to justify for me the payment since I have so many clients. But the features look very interesting. And it is the first time for a long time that a client could convince me to move from Felix for my day to day usage to it.

DIP – Pain or Gain?

But what about the DIP? In the Patter-room German there was a short discussion again about the DIP if it is an incentive for devs or if it hurts the platform, since it prevents further development. And now I have to come back to Netbot and Riposte going free.

One of my two majors in university is political economics (which I already finished) and there we talk a lot about incentives. The aim of an incentive is to steer people in a certain direction. The aim of the DIP, as I understand it is to steer the developers to continue to enhance their clients and try some other concepts as well. Since when they do good, they not only get a lot of usage of their apps, but also get continually money from the DIP. Since app.net determines the weighing regarding the API-usage, they could even steer developers into certain directions to develop certain clients. For example if they would be transparent in how their algorithm works, and they say now: Clients that only do a few specialized API-calls get weighted triple in comparison to a client that tries to do everything, it incentivices developers to develop specialized clients instead of a swiss army knife. If they would say API-calls for showing the stream of a users without any filters will loose some weightening, it could steer developers into a direction to not develop further clients that expose the microblogging-part of app.net.

But all that will only work, when app.net is transparent regarding their weighing. Otherwise it is just a bonus to development.

The next question is, wether only non-free clients should be included in the DIP. After all it seems that there are clients that can make some kind of a living just from the DIP. And since they are free, they have a bigger chance of broadening their usage and therefore broadening their share from the DIP. In addition they drive the prices down for other developers, since people will expect that clients are free or at least very very cheap (as in not more than 1 or 2 bucks).

I can understand that reasoning but at the same time those clients loose out on sales. When the free tier got released, I really wondered how much money Netbot could have made, if it wouldn’t have been free. Loads of the newcomers went probably straight to Netbot and would have gone there also if it wouldn’t have been free.

In addition it makes things really complicated. What do you do with clients that do some kind of promotion and go free for a day? Should they be removed from the DIP forever? What about clients that cost only $1 instead of 5? It would make the whole concept so complicated that no one could really handle it. So, I think free clients should be in the DIP as well.

Does it hinder clients from getting developed further? Well, there is the case of Netbot, which is a clone of Tweetbot with some small updates and which doesn’t get a love for some time now. It is still pretty popular. So, they might still get money from the DIP. But as long as income is not high enough to justify further development, it is a move I can fully understand from Tapbots to just let it sit there. Why should they put in more development time, if it is just too expensive because income is so low? I don’t say that I like it, but I can understand them. And the longer Netbot doesn’t get updated, the more users will search for alternatives. And over time the DIP-share will decrease. And at some point Tapbots will make their mind up wether there is enough money in the app.net-client-market or not. And it doesn’t cost them any money to have Netbot sitting there in the AppStore.

So usually you get money from your sales and with app.net you get a bonus because of the DIP. The better your client, the more money you get. And since the number of users for app.net is relatively small, it is not a lot of money you can get from sales. We have now ca. 90k users. Let’s say all use iOS and buy a client for $5 from the AppStore. Then it is $450.000 what you would make. That is actually not a lot, when I think about what it means to work full-time on a client. So the DIP adds the extra that could mean that your succesful client in the small market gets further developed, even so sales will be low because of the market size. If a government would do it, we would call it a subsidy. The effect of subsidies is that they distort the market. In terms of app.net this means that it distort the market in a way that clients get developed or continued to be developed, that wouldn’t have been developed in the first place or would stopped being developed because feeding your family is actually more important and so you would rather work on another project.

In addition it works as a signal (yep, signalling-theory is nice, too ;)) for developers that app.net cares about developers. They do not pay them to develop for their platform. That would send another signal. Microsoft is doing that as far as I know for Windows Phone. That signal would say, hey, we need desperately clients, so we pay you for doing it.

No, they give you a bonus, an incentive to develop for the platform. You still have to make something on your own that is succesful to get your share of the pie. It shows that they care enough to give out some of the subscription money to the developers. And this is probably far more cost-effective than paying directly.

Henceforth I guess in terms of signalling it is a very good thing that it exists. So it might also be called the Developers Signalling Program. But if they would make the weighing of the algorithm public, it could also be a powerful mechanism to steer development of certain types of clients. But my gut feeling tells me that people wouldn’t like it, when app.net started to directly influence which type of clients people develop with the DIP. So they are probably better off in not doing it in a transparent way.

Short reviews of app.net-clients

Today I created a bunch of app.net posts for short reviews of app.net-clients. All reviews have a max size of 256-characters.
I hope you enjoy them.
You can find a client that suites your needs on ADNCC which enables you to select features and operating systems to give you all clients that match the selected values.

Now for some short reviews for several clients.
FYI the clients on my homescreen are Felix, hAppy, Patter and Sprinter.
Have a look at http://adncc.nigma.de by @chemiker based on the client feature matrix by me to find a client that suites your needs.

Alphred: A workflow for Alfred2, the popular launcher on OS X. It allows to send a post or a pm right from Alfred incl. link entities. One of my favorite ways to do a post or reply to a private message from my main account.

Chapper: The only client I use on Win7. Support for Patter included. Feels cramped but in an upcoming update is theming support which enables me to set it up in a comfortable way. Good,could be better, previews from the upcoming update look very promising.

Chimp: Feature-rich, even with support for public Patter-rooms and it has push. An interesting UI-concept, which you might know from Path. Lots of information on the posts & can feel a bit cramped. Feels a bit slow. Nice client with a lot of potential.

Climber: The point & take a short video of app.net. 11 seconds have to be enough. Clean and fast interface, also support for the Places-API to set your location. Don’t forget to set the #Climber-hashtag.

Felix: Feature-rich and a good experience with a full-screen mode. Now also with support for multiple accounts and a dark theme. Has a clever implementation of link entities. To top it off it gets all the time updates. I use it all the time.

hAppy: Probably the feature-richest client. Sadly no push. Multiple account-support, link entities, a dark theme and the best client when your connection is slow. Also Complete Patter-support. Could I install only 1 client on my iPhone, this would be it.

Kiwi: A good client for Mac OS X. The only OS X-client with support for private messages. Regrettably no support for link entities or multiple accounts. My main client on OS X.

Netbot (iPhone / iPad): Feature-rich and some clever ideas, especially its support for “repost from” when you want to repost a post from another account. There’s also a good search.
It has push, but not for PMs.
Looks exactly like Tweetbot. For experiencing app.net like Twitter that might be the client of you choice.

Patter: The cleanest experience for chatting in Patter-channels. It supports PM and all features of Patter, incl. broadcasting. Otherwise features are missing like push or copying URLs etc but those are in development. Just for chatting it is great.

Riposte: A clean interface, with a good UI streamlined to be used with only one hand. Push, multiple accounts, dark theme, pictures are shown completely inline and it is really fast. Regrettably it has no support for link entities. But it is free.

Sail: A client that allows me to send a post fast on OS X with link entities to any of my accounts. Just a window, write a post, select your account, send. That’s it. Clean and quick.

Screenfeeder: Have several social feeds? Having your iPhone or iPad lying next to you or somewhere very present? Screenfeeder will show those feeds post by post to you. Your own neatly designed app.net-wall so to say.

Spoonbill: One of the first clients for the iPhone. The only client that supports an alternative but real threading-view for threads. Just for that it is worth a look. Featurewise there is not so much to say and feels a bit overdesigned.

Sprinter: The point & shoot of app.net. Open the app, make a photo, apply a filter, write your post, don’t forget to add the #Sprinter-hashtag, add a location based on the Places-API and send it out. Clean & fast. But it feels like something is missing.

Stream: Stream is clean and looks very polished, reminds me a bit on the old Tweetie for the iPhone. It has push, no link entities, no support for private messages. Needs to work on its features and could become a very good client.

Wedge: A good client for OS X that I use for my secondary account. Unfortunately no private messages but a nice interactions-view. Sadly it seems that it is not in development anymore. It was the first real good client for OS X.

OmniFocus and Things: A comparison

tl;dr

Things for design and and an ultrafast sync but you have to follow a certain way to be able to work with it and it can clutter up fast. OmniFocus for flexibility and when you have more than a dozen active projects but it’s not as nice looking.

Introduction

This text shall be about OmniFocus and Things. It is not definitive and I probably miss features since I will write here as objective as possible how those two Mac-applications and their iPhone-counterparts present themself to me and to my workflow.

I guess the best is to tell you where I come from. In 2005 I got introduced by a colleague to GTD (“Since I am using it, my desk is always tidied up and I always have backup batteries for my Bluetooth mouse”). He lent me the book, I read it and I was sold.

I started with a modified moleskine (something like this), used a Hipster PDA but was never really happy with the solutions. On my Mac I tried iGTD, kGTD (the precursor to OmniFocus, essentially a pimped OmniOutliner-document) and some other stuff. When Things became public I used it happily and when they released the iPhone-version I was in heaven. I had a look or two at OmniFocus (henceforth OF) when it got released but it looked always ugly and far too complex.

So I used Things and was always happy but I got unhappier. The always promised over-the-air sync (henceforth OTA-sync) didn’t get released, the updates were slow and stuff like the tagging-UI on the iPhone drove me nuts. So I had again a look around and suddenly OF didn’t look that bad anymore and I bought with it over two years ago the iPhone-app, too. I also bought an ebook about it and read loads if articles because I wanted to get the most out of it.

So after approximately three years I switched from Things completely to OmniFocus. Now it is two years later and because of the looks of Things I was still interested in it and recently I decided to give it another chance.

And what I found I will write up here.

Mapping features

There are some features which are similar in both apps but different enough that I have to explain them here to make the rest of the article easier to understand.

Contexts vs Tags

Things uses tags, OmniFocus uses contexts. When you know GTD, you know that a task should usually be associated with a project and a context. A project is something you try to achieve (clean up the garage, publish a podcast etc) what needs several steps. The single steps of a project are the tasks. A context is depending on definition a location (home, work, at the computer, at the phone) or state you are in (highly focused, zombie). In OmniFocus you can only add one context per task. You can have them divided like Errands and then a ton of subcontexts like the supermarkets but that’s it. One context per task, as it is written in the book. In addition you can add a duration, and a flag to a task.

Things on the other hand has tags. Therefore you can add unlimited tags to a task and use it for durations, priorities etc. tags can also be hierarchical like the contexts on OF, two levels, that’s it.

I will write more about the weaknesses and advantages of both later.

Start Dates vs Scheduling a Task

In OF you can set a start date for a task. That means that the task will be marked as inactive until it reaches it start date.

In Things you can schedule a task which means that it will be marked as scheduled (kinda like inactive) and it turns up in a daily review sheet when it reaches the date and then you can decide what to do with it. The two main options are “show in today” (a view for tasks in Things for tasks which are due, overdue and you decided on todo today) and later (reschedule it) but you can also modify the task in any way you like.

For the purpose of this articles when I speak about start dates I mean in terms of Things the scheduling of a task.

Inactive vs Someday

In OF you can set a context (all tasks with that context are inactive), task or project to inactive. Depending on your filters it won’t show up then. There is a similar feature in Things which is called Someday. You can place a project or a task there and it will be removed from the side bar and the projects view on the iPhone and will turn up only when you switch to the Someday-view.

When I talk about setting something inactive I mean in terms of Things that I move it to someday.

The Design

Things looks better. No doubt about that. The desktop-app and the iPhone-app are well designed in terms of looks. OmniFocus on the Mac has support for themes and there is a plethora available and I even use custom icons from Icons & Coffee but nothing gets OmniFocus to look as polished as Things. On the iPhone it is not even themeable. But at least the OmniGroup gave it nicer looking icons on the Mac and on the iPhone which is at least something. The OF2 α looks better than OF1 but it still is not at the level of Things. Looks are important for me because I want to look at nice things when I use something all the time.

Entering Tasks

Both applications on the Mac have quick input windows which work fine and have auto-completions. There are workflows for Alfred for both which work fine. The only difference is that I can’t add a start date in Things but I can do so in OmniFocus.

On the iPhone both apps have a universally available button for pulling up the “enter a task-sheet”.

But they differ in some ways and here the way both apps work start to diverge.

OmniFocus

When OmniFocus does a “cold” start aka wasn’t in the background, it always optimizes the database. When your database has a certain size, this can take up to a minute in my experience. Since I am archiving my tasks on a regular basis it’s often a max. of a view seconds. Anyway in this time the sheet misses the ability to put in a project or task. So, that can be annoying.

If OmniFocus was in the background you can do everything incl. making recurring tasks and it even lets you attach a photo or an audio-recording. The only thing missing is a way to add a duration.

When entering a project or a context, a new view is pulled up that lists all projects or all contexts and you get a fuzzy search that searches while you type. I usually only need to type in a few letters and it is filtered down to a point where I see what I search.

Maildrop

When you use the Omni Sync Server as a way to sync your todos OTA (you can also use your own WebDAV-server), you can use the OmniFocus Mail Drop (which you find in your sync server account page). This means that you get a mail-address and when you send something to this mail address it gets added to your inbox when you sync the next time. The subject becomes the task, the body a note of the task.

I use this often when I am on my phone and find some interesting piece of software or video which I want to have a look at, when I am on my Mac. And app.net-, twitter- and RSS-clients and browsers on iOS have usually an easy way to share something via e-mail. It’s really fast. And as I noticed it is kind of a dealbreaker when I have a look at other todo-apps.

Things

In Things on the iPhone I can add a task, set a due date and project it belongs to, add tags and a note and schedule it. No way to make it a repeating task, add a photo or audio recording.

In addition for adding details to a task (like tags, note, due date) you have to do an extra tap to open the details. It feels like they discourage entering those details when you are entering a task. It might feel a bit cleaner than with OF but it also discourages you to think about it already when you are putting it in the first place imho. When you have a task in the inbox and get its details-view, you can move it but need to push the edit-button to add tags for example. One more thing thatched me think that CulturedCode (henceforth CC) discourages you to use those. When I used Things a lot I often didn’t enter tags on the iPhone, one reason was that it is hidden until you actively want to use them.

When I started to use OF I suddenly started to actively use contexts because it was right in front of me and I thought about where I actually have to do this. And therefore I could filter for it easily later.

The next problem with Things is that tags and projects are list views without a search. You can reorder them (and have to do so manually) to have the most used tags on top but I wouldn’t enter sub-tags of Errands for several supermarkets for example because it clutters up the list and I need ages to find what I search. And remember you also do priorities and durations with tags. But that’s missing one of the big advantages of tags: I can apply multiple of them to one task in contrast to OF. But I wouldn’t add a lot because it clutters up the list. It’s not a problem on the Mac though because there tags auto-complete when you add them to a task.

The same problem have projects. When you have more than let’s say 15 projects it becomes a hassle to get to the correct one. This will be a problem in the next section of this article, too.

Folders, Areas of Responsibilities and Projects

In both applications you have projects and they work similar. They group tasks (OF bad even the ability to enter sub-tasks to a task but I did not yet find a real use case for me). In both cases they can have notes, start and due dates, can be repeated and scheduled.

The first important thing to note is that projects in Things cannot contain recurring tasks. CC says that projects are something definite that is not ongoing and thus they shouldn’t have recurring tasks. They probably never had a project which took up only a short while like a few weeks where you had to do a specific task every day of the project.

But in Things you have Areas of Responsibility. You can group there projects and recurring tasks. So for big projects the best thing would be to create an Area of Responsibility and add there the smaller projects that are part if the big one and recurring tasks which belong to the big project. But I wouldn’t want to create an Area for a small project.

In OmniFocus you have folders to organize your projects. I use them like Areas in Things and have folders like “home”, “work”, “university”, “administration” etc.

One big difference is that tasks in Things can actually have no project associated with them, while in OF it always has to have project. My “project-less” tasks are in a project called “Misc”. When I moved from Things to OF I had to get accustomed to this and when I tried Things again I had to get accustomed to the fact that tasks do not need a project and therefore the project Misc. is not necessary. Btw. most of my repeating tasks live there. So it is actually a minor annoyance that Things doesn’t allow repeating tasks in a project. But it will be one of the pieces of my conclusion.

There are two more differences regarding projects and their organization.

Parallel and Sequential Projects

In OF projects can be parallel or sequential. In a parallel project you can do the task in any order you like, the top most is the “next task” though (important for filters), while in sequential projects only the top most task is the next one.

I have for example projects when I have get a bill from the doc with the following tasks: write the letter for the insurance, put in an envelope and write the address on it, bring it to the post office, wait for the money on the bank account (due a three days before the bill is due), transfer the money.
The waiting for-task is an inactive task (like all my tasks with the waiting for-context) because I won’t do anything until I get the money or I really have to transfer the money. So all tasks after that are inactive as well which is good for filters when I want to see only active tasks. But when the inactive task becomes due it will turn up anyway in my due tasks.

In Things however there are only parallel projects in terms of OF. Which can be quite annoying. To explain that I have to explain a view in Things. I will get into more detail about views later.

There is a view in Things called Next. In there are all tasks listed that are not in someday, ordered by project and at the bottom are all scheduled tasks (except on the iPhone where a scheduled repeating project is listed with the other projects but I guess that’s a bug). Now I have my project with the bill from the doc. Guess what, the task after the waiting for task is listed there, as well as the project itself. Even so there is no task that is actually active right now. So it just clutters up the next view.

I thought for a long time that sequential projects are not necessary but when they help to filter stuff and get an overview they are quite some help. I already had also the case where I had a parallel project and suddenly couldn’t continue until I got an e-mail from someone. So I added a waiting for-task, made the project sequential and all tasks became inactive and some perspectives (the term for special view in OF) became cleaned up.

At last there is the side bar. Both applications, OF and Things have a sidebar where they list projects and in the case of Things some special views (Today, Next, Someday, Schedule – but more about that later). Things doesn’t have folders but the aforementioned Areas of Responsibilities.

In OF I Put my tasks into projects and most projects into folders. And I can fold the folders and the projects are removed out of the view. I see only the folder.

In Things there are no folders. So the more projects you have, the more projects you see in that sidebar. Putting a project into an Area doesn’t allow you to remove it from the sidebar. Clicking on an Area just shows you all projects and tasks associated with it. If you have a lot of projects, at some point eve. The areas get out of the sidebar and you have to scroll. More clutter. It works fine when you have only a few but I tend to have rather more than view because I have projects for each podcast-episode (that’s two), big blog entries that need research, several projects for my master thesis, upcoming birthdays of friends and relatives, home projects, administrative projects and so on. If you think a bit about it, you can get really fast to a lot of projects. And it is easy to clean your views up in OF, in Things it is not possible.

Templates

Both applications don’t allow template-projects but I will shortly describe what my solution to the problem is.

Templates in OF

I have a folder Templates and in there a couple of inactive projects (one for tidying up the apartment, one for paying a doctors bill, one for a new podcast-episode etc).
Usually they are done like “Doctors bill [date of bill]” or “Retrozirkel [episode name]” (the podcast I am part of).
When it’s time, I duplicate it, make it active, change the part of the name in the brackets and move it into the according folder. Afterwards I add due dates to the project and the tasks if necessary.

Templates in Things

In Things I have the templates stored in Someday and tagged them with “template”. The rest is the same as in OF, I just remove additionally the word template of course and move it to the according Area.

I like the folder a bit more because I can fold it up and don’t have them clutter up the someday list. But since I do not have that many templates, it is not really a problem in Things. But I can see that it might be really annoying for a power user of templates.

Contexts and Tags

I wrote already in the introduction and in the part about entering tasks about contexts and tags. Here I want to discuss how they actually work out.

To freshen up your memory, contexts in GTD are some kind of location where a task can happen. The word location is pretty broad like “home” or “phone”. There are new ideas out there that move contexts from location to something like state of mind since many people can do their work everywhere. Nowadays you are pretty much all the time online, so why have an online-context? And you carry your phone all the time with you, so why a phone-context. And our phones can do most of the stuff our computers can do, so a computer-context becomes redundant, too. Therefore you can come up with contexts like “focus” or “zombie” (you know, right after waking up and before your first coffee). But I think you get now the idea.

Contexts

OmniFocus uses contexts which can be hierarchically in two levels. I have as written before a context called Errands and sub-contexts of supermarkets and other shops. Or I have a library-context and several sub-contexts which bear the name of the library. In OmniFocus I can go now to the contexts-view and select “Errands” and it will me show all errands. When I select “Errands/Postal office” it will show me all those. In a search for Errands all tasks within the current view that belong to the context or one of its subcontexts.

Unfortunately OmniFocus doesn’t allow multiple contexts. Why multiple contexts you might wonder. When I do research it is not uncommon that I find books that are available in several libraries and not only in one. So I would like to create a task that says “get book so and so” and add all libraries in which it is available as a context (and add the signatures in the notes-field). That is not possible with OmniFocus.

There are ideas to add tags to OmniFocus for something like this via the notes-field but it is just a work around and nothing more. Regrettably it doesn’t seem that OmniFocus 2 will add tags, judging from the current Alpha.

Tags

Things uses tags which can be organized hierarchically like the contexts in OmniFocus. Unlimited metadata \o/

But it doesn’t work as well, as one would think. And my latest mail-exchange with a support-guy from CC doesn’t let me think that this will change. Anyway, why doesn’t work it that well?

On the one hand there is the input-problematic on the iPhone. I at least enter a lot of tasks into the iPhone-version because when something comes into my mind, I put it into my iPhone. The trusted inbox, you know. But there it’s this extra tap and the bad UI I described above that I do not really want to enter tags there.

On the other hand there is the problem is a matter of the hierarchical tags. Let’s say I add to a task the two tags: “Central” and “State” which are both sub-tags of “library”. In the UI of Things it will show me the tag “library” with a hint that there are sub-tags and then I can open them specifically and filter for those. Or I click on “library” and it will filter it correctly. But when I search for library, it won’t show me tasks that have only a sub-tag of library.

And both in combination don’t really let me use tags in Things, even so they should be superior to the contexts of OmniFocus.

Search

Both apps have a search. But it works quite differently. Even so I usually start with the OmniFocus-part, I will this time start with Things. Things’ search is great. On the Mac it is always in the lower right and it always searches all projects etc, independent from the view you are in. Results come up while you are typing and are ordered by Inbox, Next, Scheduled, Logged and Trash and you can filter the search-results by tag. On the iPhone it is available on the first screen of the application with, you just have to scroll up and is a universal search, too. When you start typing it shows an extra bar that says “Title”, “Notes”, “Tags”, “All” for doing a bit of filtering. As written above there seems to be a bug though with scheduled repeated projects on the iPhone. The only thing that bothers me is the tag-search I described in the previous section

On OmniFocus search is available universally as well but it only searches your current view. Therefore when you are in the Inbox and you start searching, it will show you only results from the Inbox. You have to go to a view that shows you all task to search over all tasks. I never understood that. Usually when I search, I don’t want to filter first and then search but want to search and maybe filter when I can’t find it.

On the iPhone there is an extra search-view which searches everywhere but it is not search as you type and it doesn’t search for contexts. So it is far inferior to the search in Things.

But the way both apps are constructed lead at least for me to the following: Since I usually give every task a context and a project in OmniFocus everything is well ordered and because of the weaknesses of the search, I rarely use the search but still find everything very fast because I usually know to which project a task belongs and it every phone call that I have to make is in the context phone.

In Things the search is so good that I really like to search but because of it can’t find the parent tag of a sub-tag it has kind of a bad taste for me. In addition I do not have everything as well sorted since it doesn’t really encourage you like OF to give everything a project and a tag.

Due Dates and Times

The next thing I want to write about are Due Dates. I am not sure anymore if the book Getting Things Done mentions due dates. Tasks shouldn’t have one if possible. Because usually stuff with a specific time or date is an appointment and not a task, thus it should be in your calendar and not in your todo-list.

OmniFocus has due dates and times. It defaults to a day at 7 pm. You can change the time though. The task will turn orange (and an icon badge will appear) when the task is due soon which is a time period set in the preferences between 24 hours and 7 days.

When a task becomes due and therefore overdue you get a notification and it will turn red, as will the icon badge.

In my experience the icon badge on the iPhone will only turn up for due soon tasks, when you open the app while a task is due soon. So not opening the app will only give you a notification when the task is due and then add the badge.

Things allows only due dates. When a task is due it will turn up in your daily review and the iPhone will remind you that there are due tasks at a set time (like 8 am in the morning). But you can’t give tasks a due time. Hence you have to rely on another app for that, like the built-in app Reminders or the great app Due.

I have to say that I don’t like that I have to have two apps for that. I often create tasks like “phone person x” and set a due date some time today. So I see it all the time at the badge that there is something to do but I will get an additional reminder at a certain point of time. In Things I have to create that task and do it a second time in Due. Or leave it out of Things (and therefore don’t have it in the project and logged that I did it, when I did it) and have it only in one app. Sure it’s kind of a first world problem but it annoys me. And to be honest being able to decide between OmniFocus and Things is a first world thing, too.

And CC mentioned several times that they won’t change it because a task shouldn’t have a due time. But it is something I could live with, it is just inconvenient.

Reviews

You should review your projects and tasks in a regular interval. The idea is that you do not loose oversight and you think about what might need an update (additional tasks or cross off tasks that are done or not necessary anymore). There are people who do it daily, I do it weekly on the weekend. When I have really a lot to do I do it daily.

OmniFocus supports you in doing reviews. You can determine a time how often a project should be reviewed (n days, weeks, months, years) and when you hit the Review-button, you will be presented with a list of projects and the tasks they contain which are up for review. You go through them and can mark them for review.

I have a repeating project for my weekly and monthly review. The weekly review contains not only stuff like “review projects” but also tasks like review previous and upcoming calendar data. The monthly review contains tasks that I have to do monthly like set up your budget or do a backup of you website.

OmniFocus 2 will have a new review-view which is apparently taken from the iPad-version (which seems to be awesome from what I’ve read). From what I’ve seen so far I like it but since it’s in its early stages I cannot say a lot about it now.

Things, like most To-Do-apps doesn’t support reviews at all. It has a daily review which will show you in your Today-view all tasks that are due today or are scheduled for today but that’s it. I have my weekly review-project. But it means that I always have to review all projects because keeping track of what when to review is cumbersome. It doesn’t matter when you only have ten projects, but with many projects it is not feasible imho.

Perspectives and Views

Things offers several views. Inbox, Today, Next, Scheduled, Someday, Projects, all Active Projects, all Areas, the Logbook and the Trash.

The Inbox is the inbox. Quick Entry defaults to the Inbox and the way the Entry-sheet is designed on the iPhone tasks put in there usually land here, too. Today is a view where you see all overdue and due-tasks and tasks you decided you want to do today. Next is a list of all active tasks and projects, Scheduled shows you scheduled and repeating tasks and is the only view were you can create repeating tasks (remember they can’t belong to a project), Projects shows you all Projects sorted by Areas of Responsibility, a click on a project shows you all tasks in it, a click on a single Area shows you all projects and scheduled tasks in it. The Logbook all logged tasks and the Trash all tasks which are in the Trash. That’s it. When I used Things a lot I lived basically in the Today-view. In the morning I looked through the next-list, selected all tasks I wanted to do today and from then on it was usually the today-view or maybe a project I was working on. When the Today-view was empty I got me new tasks from the Next-view. And there was a big maybe that I filtered the Next-view for tags (because, well I said enough about tag-entry on the iPhone, didn’t I?).

Let’s talk about Perspectives in OmniFocus. Or better not, I will give here only a brief abstract about them. Perspectives are one, if not the most powerful feature in OmniFocus. Merlin Mann did a 56 minute talk about them, if you are really interested.

Perspectives allow you to create any view on your projects and tasks you want. I have for example a today-view which has no side-bar, and shows only the tasks that are flagged, overdue and due today. Or there is the predefined context-view that shows you in the sidebar all contexts. And clicking on them will give you a list of tasks. Or you could create an inbox-view that shows you only the inbox and nothing else, not even the toolbar. You can essentially setup your window a way you want it, take a snapshot and when you want that presentation of tasks and projects you choose the perspective.

Perspectives can only be created on the Mac but can be synced to the iPhone. Because of perspectives you can essentially emulate any view of Things in OmniFocus and make it as clean or as cluttered as you want.

OTA-Sync

I want to talk only about the over-the-air-sync here. Things didn’t have it for a long time but has it now. And howly mowly it is damn fast. You can type a task on your iPhone or Mac and see it turn up on the other side more or less instantaneously. But you have to rely on CC for it because you have to use their infrastructure (for free).

The sync of OmniFocus can be fast and pretty slow. It is never as fast as the sync from Things or at least doesn’t appear as fast. When you want to keep it fast, you should archive your tasks on a monthly basis (one of the tasks in the monthly review project) and sync all your clients on a regular basis. Yeah, that one rarely used laptop can make a difference.

But if you want to use your own infrastructure, you can sync with a WebDAV-server of your choice and do not have to rely on Omnis sync server. But if you use Omnis sync server you can use the above mentioned Mail Drop which is ingenious in my opinion.

But the sync of Things is really neat. Rome wasn’t built in a day, too.

Conclusion

Now coming to an end with this big comparison. And you probably can guess that I will keep using OmniFocus. It is very flexible and powerful. But as I have written in the introduction I read (most of) a book and a lot of articles about it. It has a steep learning curve. And you really should have read Getting Things Done by David Allen when you want to use OmniFocus. But while it is heftily invested in GTD it doesn’t take the book word by word (but with contexts unfortunately) and seems to see it more as a guideline. Henceforth it allows you to model things to your way to get things done.

Things on the other hand is clean and easy to use from the get go. It hides stuff like tags and therefore looks clean. If you have more than 20 projects it becomes fast unclean and cluttered.

I always have the feeling the people from CulturedCode have a specific way to do Getting Things Done and if you want to strife from that way, you have a problem and need workarounds or can’t do it all. I do not even understand their reasoning. They say that tasks shouldn’t have a due time but at the same moment they allow tags (which aren’t “pure GTD”).

If good looks and a really fast sync are important to you and you do not have a lot of projects and don’t care about having a second app running for your tasks, then Things is probably the way to go.

If you want flexibility in the way you deal with your todos and projects and even be able to work in phases when you have a lot of projects on hand, then OmniFocus is the way to go in my opinion.

iOS keine gute Spieleplattform

Ich bin mobiler Spieler. Schon bevor es den Game Boy gab, habe ich Stunden mit meinen Game & Watch-Spielen zugebracht (derer drei: Oil Panic, Donkey Kong 2 und das großartige Gold Cliff). Später dann ein Game Boy, ein Game Boy Advance SP und ein selten genutzter Wonderswan Crystal, ein Nintendo DS, später noch eine PSP aus Gründen. Auf der Wunschliste steht schon lange ein Nintendo 3DS.

Und dann kam ein iPod Touch. Mit Jailbreak gab’s dann auch schnell die ersten Spiele. Mit einem iPhone und iOS 2 ging es dann richtig los. Die Spiele waren billig und recht gut. Aus allen Genres gab es etwas und je nach Können des Entwicklers konnte man selbst Jump’n’Runs oder Beat’em Ups halbwegs brauchbar mit dem Touchscreen steuern.

Und seit einiger Zeit komme ich immer mehr zu der Erkenntnis das iOS als Plattform keine Plattform ist für Spiele. Auch wenn es vermutlich abertausende Spiele gibt und selbst große Entwickler wie EA oder Square Enix ihren Reibach machen. Die Gründe können natürlich auch für Handhelds gelten, die in Zukunft noch herauskommen, aber das wird man dann sehen. Aktuell geht es mir um iOS. Evtl. lässt sich das auch auf Android übertragen, dort kenne ich mich aber zu wenig aus, um mir eine qualifizierte Meinung bilden zu können.

Die Idee, dass iOS Probleme als Spieleplattform hat, ist mir vor kurzem das erste Mal gekommen. Es sollte ein Handheld für ein Kind angeschafft werden und die Wahl fiel auf einen Nintendo DS. Der Hauptgrund: man kann sich Spiele aus der Bücherei ausleihen. Und dann begann ich zu grübeln. Würde ich einem Kind mit neun oder zehn, ggf. etwas jünger einen iPod Touch als Handheld kaufen wollen? Und wenn nein, warum nicht? Ich werde mich in der Regel auf Handhelds von Nintendo beziehen, da zwar die Handhelds von Sony schick, aber meiner Meinung nach oftmals nicht wirklich kinderkompatibel aufgrund ihrer Spielebibliothek sind.

1) iOS-Geräte haben eine relativ kurze Haltezeit

Damit man aktuell alles spielen kann, was es im AppStore gibt braucht man allein von den OS-Voraussetzungen min. einen iPod Touch der 4. Generation. Das ist ein Gerät vom Oktober 2011. Ein iPod Touch der 3. Generation (veröffentlicht 2009) kann damit nicht mehr alle Spiele spielen. Und selbst ein iPod Touch der 4. Generation kann z.B. nicht mehr “The World Ends With You” abspielen (imho eins der besten RPGs aller Zeiten). Das heißt, dass ich als Elternteil mindestens im Zwei-Jahres-Rhythmus ein neues Gerät kaufen müsste, damit alle Spiele noch gespielt werden können. Ein aktueller iPod Touch ist auch nicht billiger als ein 3DS.

2) Die Update-Problematik

Ich habe ein älteres Gerät auf dem sagen wir max. iOS 5 läuft und auf einmal kommt ein Update für eine Anwendung die min. iOS 6 verlangt. Und auf iTunes drücke ich aus Versehen auf Update. Was passiert? Die App wird gelöscht. Gleichzeitig kann es aber auch passieren, dass Apps, die nicht up-to-date gehalten werden auf neueren Geräten nicht mehr funktionieren. Und Apple erlaubt wohl demnächst keine Updates mehr, wenn eine App nicht mit iPhone5-Anpassung daher kommt. Dann gibt es wohl keine Updates für Secret of Mana oder Chrono Trigger mehr. Und wenn die mit iOS8 Zicken machen, Pech gehabt.

3) Die Spielstand-Problematik

iOS hat seit iOS2 ein Problem, dass mich seit damals stört. Unter iOS2 war es noch störender, weil ich wegen eines OS-Bugs regelmäßig mein iPhone zurücksetzen musste und kein Backup einspielen durfte. Was passiert wenn der Platz voll ist auf dem iOS-Gerät und man will was neues installieren? Man muss was altes löschen. Was passiert mit den Daten der gelöschten App? Genau, die verabschieden sich auch. Und wenn ich das Spiel dann neu installiere, dann muss ich wieder von vorne anfangen und mir sogar alles wieder freispielen. Natürlich können die Entwickler dagegen was machen über iCloud-Sync o.ä. aber viele tun es nicht. Und für viele viele alte Spiele wird es nie ein entsprechendes Update geben. Aber ich kann noch heute mein Uralt-Zelda für den Game Boy ausgraben und so lange die Batterie nicht aufgegeben hat, was mir ehrlich gesagt noch nie passiert ist, ist alles erhalten geblieben. Bei moderneren Handhelds gibt es nicht mal das Batterieproblem meines Wissens nach (jedenfalls nicht für die PSP und ich vermute auch nicht beim DS).

4) iOS-Geräte sind nur mäßig stabil

Es ist nicht einfach einen DS kaputt zu bekommen, selbst die neueren Modelle nicht. iOS-Geräte mit zerbrochenen Displays sehe ich andauernd. Bei Erwachsenen.

5) Spiele können nicht verliehen werden

Spiele auf unter iOS sind verdammt billig, wenn man von den Ausreißern von Square Enix einmal absieht. Aber das bedeutet nicht, dass ich meinem Kind jeden Monat ein Budget geben würde, um sich Spiele zuzulegen. Bei mir gab’s früher zum Geburtstag und zu Weihnachten jeweils ein Spiel. Vielleicht durch Geld von Verwandten nochmal zwischendurch was. Ansonsten hat man seine Spiele an Freunde verliehen und welche geliehen bekommen. Inzwischen kann man sich die Spiele sogar in der Bücherei leihen. Das geht unter iOS nicht. Natürlich sind die Spiele billiger, aber das bedeutet nicht, dass man sich einfach so alles zulegen kann. Auch zehn 3€-Spiele sind 30€ und von Square Enix-Spielen oder anderen Premiumspielen rede ich da noch gar nicht.

6) Freemium

Immer mehr Spiele kommen auf iOS als Freemium-Spiele raus. Große Firmen setzen meines Wissens nach sogar Psychologen ein, um das profitabelste Schema zu entwickeln. Ich selbst habe mir bei Freemium die Regel gesetzt: in dem Moment, in dem du was kaufen willst, löschst du das Spiel. Kinder sind da meiner Erfahrung nach dann eher etwas dickköpfig und nerven die Eltern so lange bis die entsprechende Premium-Währung im kleinen Paket gekauft wird. Und ist es einmal passiert, passiert es noch häufiger. Mal abgesehen davon, dass es meines Wissens nach dann immer noch die Lücke gibt, dass man für eine gewisse Zeit nach Passworteingabe bei In-App Purchases ohne Passwort shoppen kann. So schnell ist dann mal ein dreistelliger Euro-Betrag weg. Tja, das war es dann, für die nächsten 12 Monate kein Taschengeld mehr. Ähm nein, das ist wohl keine Option…

7) Die Geräte werden gerne gestohlen

Seitdem mir mein iPhone in der U-Bahn aus der Hand gerissen wurde und ich es nie wieder gesehen habe, bin ich sehr vorsichtig geworden. Ich habe ehrlich gesagt noch nie von nem Diebstahl eines DS, Game Boys o.ä. in Cafés oder den öffentlichen Verkehrsmitteln gehört. Bei Apple-Produkten ging das ja schon mit den iPods los. Und bei Smartphones passiert es wohl sehr häufig. Das ist eine reine Vermutung, aber ich denke das gilt auch für iPod Touches. Daher würde ich mein Kind in der Öffentlichkeit lieber mit einem “Spielzeug” spielen lassen, als mit einem Statussymbol, das gerne entwedet wird.

8) Nichts geht über Knöpfe

Das ist altersunabhängig, aber seien wir ehrlich: nichts geht über Knöpfe. Touch-Steuerungen sind besser geworden und es gibt Genre in denen sie die beste Wahl sind (Carcassonne mit einem Joypad stelle ich mir sehr anstrengend vor), aber für vieles unterliegen sie Joypads. Und ich sehe nicht, dass Apple jemals ein Joypad herausbringen wird als Ergänzung für die mobilen Geräte. Und wenn doch, na ja, Apple macht gute Hardware aber meiner Meinung nach war die Peripherie immer ziemlicher Mist. Die schicksten, aber gleichzeitig schlimmsten Mäuse waren die von Apple. Die Tastaturen sind ok-ish. Ich erwarte nicht, dass Apple es auf die Reihe beommt ein vernünftiges Joypad zu entwickeln. Und viele alte Spiele kann man dann auch nicht spielen.

Das gilt nicht nur für Kinder

Vieles was ich hier geschrieben habe, bezog sich auf Kinder. Allerdings gilt das auch für Erwachsene. Wenn ich bei nem Kumpel ein tolles iOS-Spiel sehe, kann ich es mir nicht mal für nen Tag oder zwei ausleihen, ich muss es mir kaufen. Mein Gerät wurde schon einmal gestohlen. Meine Daten sind verloren gegangen. Ich sehe bei einem alten 3G, dass der entsprechenden Person voll ausreicht, dass sie keine neuen Spiele mehr spielen kann und aufpassen muss, dass ihr iTunes nicht die Apps wegupdatet etc.

Fazit

Aus den ganzen oben genannten Gründen finde ich iOS immer schlechter als Spieleplattform und werde versuchen mich in Zukunft zusammenreißen, allein schon aus Geldbeuteltechnischen Gründen das Snackshopping nach Spielen zu unterbinden. Mein Pile of Shame ist hoch genug, dass ich vermutlich bis zu meinem letzten Atemzug mit Spielen in meiner Freizeit beschäftigt sein könnte. Aber ich muss zugeben, dass Spiele wie Carcassonne oder Super Hexagon mit zu dem Bestem gehören, was ich je gespielt habe und die Retina-Fassung von The World Ends With You einfach so viel besser aussieht, als die iOS-Fassug und ich auch relativ einfach zwischen der englischen und der japanischen Fassung wechseln kann. Aber die Nachteile überwiegen imho der Vorteile, wenn ich darüber nachdenke und ich würde Eltern nicht empfehlen ihren Kindern ein iOS-Gerät zu kaufen, auch wenn man damit so viel mehr machen kann und die Spiele so schön billig sind.

Ich verkauf dann mal meine ganzen iOS-Spiele und kauf mir einen 3DS…halt…Mist!